Saturday, November 22, 2008

Of thee I sing

Brrrrr. Thursday night was cold. I wanted to do nothing more than climb into some flannel PJs, get under the quilt, and read a good book. But. I had tickets to a play and I needed to keep that commitment.

Driving up Grand Avenue from I-64, it was thrilling to see the old Woolworth building transformed into the spectacular Kranzberg Arts Center. Washed in colored lights, it makes a bright beacon on the southern edge of the arts district.

Moving on, I passed the bloody neon at the Fox heralding Sweeny Todd and parked on a side street. Trudging thru the cold, I made my way to the Grandel Theatre. The play was good. The play was over. I headed home.

Coming out of an art event, I always have this heightened sense of awareness. So I decided to take the scenic Olive/Lindell drive home instead of going back to the highway. As I turned the corner, I slowed down to look at the shell of the stone chapel. Just a few weeks ago it was strung with glowing lamps creating one of the most interesting installations I've seen in a long time. (Pictured here.)

Then I passed Saint Louis University and couldn't help but be impressed by how much the campus has grown and beautified the neighborhood. Thanks, Monsignor. Just a bit further and on the right was a string of refurbished architectural gems: the art museum at SLU, the Coronado, and the Moolah.

Now I'm slowing down again to remind myself of the location for The Grind - which I believe is one of the first true coffee houses in St. Louis, pre-Starbuck's invasion. And looming largely ahead is the mosaic marvel, The New Cathedral. About right here is where I always feel compelled to genuflect. Or cross myself. At the very least, give an awe struck sigh.

There are a couple blocks where I can hum to the music without gawking for landmarks, and then the Chase comes in to view. When I was growing up, I thought of it as the home for wrestling. Now it's the jewel of the gentrified CWE.

Crossing over Kingshighway, I'm entering the northern alley of Forest Park. If my facts are correct, it's the largest urban green space in the US - even bigger than Central Park in NYC - and though I may be biased, it's the setting for the most spectacular collection of cultural institutions, beautiful trails, and peaceful water scapes.

The turn of the century homes along Lindell face proudly into the park and make an impressive drive for townies and visitors. Please note though: Do not enter into the confines of Portland Place and Westminster after dark. Dennis, the security guard, takes very seriously his responsibility for keeping the streets private and free of trespassing lookeeloos.

As the park ends, sitting square in front of me is Washington University. Again, I'm surely prejudiced, but arguably it's one of the loveliest campuses in the country. As I drive south on Skinker, I'm approaching one of our most venerable though commercial landmarks - the mighty Amoco sign. Now an anomaly because it sits above a BP station. But -- oh the horror -- if it were to be removed!

Continuing south I pass the Tivoli - one of the few remaining stand-alone movie theaters in this time of rowdy megaplexes. It would only be more nostalgic if it were a drive-in.

Down the hill, Skinker becomes McCausland and I'm almost home. As I drive those last few blocks the realization of how many remarkable places I passed amazes me. What was that - maybe a four or five mile corridor down the middle of the city?

Were you keeping a tally? My fingers flicked off about fourteen, fifteen attractions - and that's NOT counting all the individual landmarks of the Grand Arts district or the cultural institutions and play stations within Forest Park.

Here's where the preaching begins. Have you ever complained that there is "nothing to do in this town"? Do you confine yourself to the same ole, same ole? Maybe you make trips to Chicago or KC for culture and restaurants? Bah. I'm throwing down the dance many cities offer so much in such a small piece of geography?

When you throw in the vibrancy of the loft district. The history of Soulard. The pulse of The Loop. The charm of our neighborhoods. The plethora of shopping. The diversity of S. Grand. The variety of parks. The proximity to wine country. The mix of cultures. The expanse of the Katy Trail. Yeah, okay....I think you're getting the picture.

But are you taking advantage of it? Enjoying it? Sharing with out of town friends?

Here's my challenge: Make a list of five things you have never done in St. Louis and see if you can make it through at least three of them before the end of the year. I'm offering some thought starters.

Saratoga Lanes in Maplewood - bowling or billiards
Hiking at Castlewood
The Rock 'n' Roll art show at Third Degree Glass Factory (11/28-30)
A rock climbing class
Darts at Blueberry Hill
Concert at The Sheldon or Focal Point
Ice skating in Forest Park

Oh, St. Louis, I sing your praises.

Let me know, fellow citizens, what rocks your world and enriches your life. And please send along some of your ideas - I'd like to have a couple adventures myself before starting a new year.

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